Monday, December 29, 2008

Music on the brain: Researchers explore the biology of music

1. Reference
Music on the brain: Researchers explore the biology of music
By William J. Cromie
March 22, 2001
Harvard Gazette
For Dr. Lee Bartel – Music and the Brain 2122H
A Summary, Review and Response

2. Summary
This article outlines the innate capability humans have for music. Babies respond to music while inutero, and scientists believe that certain rules for music are hardwired in the brain. Culture plays a key role in this innate development.

Mark Jude Tramo, a musician, songwriter, and neuroscientist at the Harvard Medical School believes that studying the biology of music can lead to practical applications associated with learning, deafness and personal improvement like lowering blood pressure and easing pain.

No one has found a “music center” in the brain. There are sections of the brain that respond specifically to music but there does not yet seem to be any sort of center where music perception solely occurs. Both hemispheres of the brain are needed for perceiving music in regards to melody, harmony, timbre, rhythm, and memory. Tramo notes that music is just as much motor related as it is auditory related and this would explain why there isn’t just one center of the brain that deals with music comprehension.

There have been some practical applications from the study of the biology of music. For example, following heart bypass surgery patients often require blood pressure medication; however, those patients in intensive care units where background music is played require lower doses of drugs than those in units where no music played.

Music-like games have also been used to help people suffering from dyslexia. Some hospitals used soft background music in intensive care units for premature babies – this in addition to a nurse’s or mother’s humming helps these babies to gain weight faster. Music has been used to calm Alzheimer’s patients and music has been used in nursing homes to help reduce confusion. Music can also help lower blood pressure in certain scenarios and can increase the efficiency of oxygen consumption by the heart. Music has also been said to help athletes enhance their performance as well.

Tramo also believes that music and dancing came before language. Flutes made from animal bones were found in Eastern Europe and are believed to have been made more than 50,000 years ago.
Tramo realizes that there is still a lot of work to be done on how the brain processes music like how the brain decides if music is consonant or dissonant, whether music helps people master other skills like math or if listening to Mozart in the womb improves IQ.

Music therapy has been used for decades to treat neurological conditions and advances in neuroscience and brain imaging are revealing what is happening in the brain. Patients with Parkinson’s and stroke have benefited from music therapy because the brain is, “innately attuned to respond to highly rhythmic music.” Patients can move again when listening to certain types of music. Stroke victims have been able to speak again by speaking through song. Music therapy can also help improve moods of patients and can help Alzheimer’s patients remember more when using music from weddings, religious services and favourite childhood songs.

3. Reflection
This short article was very informative and interesting though I feel the need to do further research on some of the topics outlined. It was very similar to other articles I have read about the benefits of music on the human brain. It was an excellent introduction to some of the ways that music therapy can be beneficial to a variety of patients. It would be interesting to learn more about how music is interpreted by babies because culture plays a key role in how music is interpreted. I wonder if a child is adopted from a different culture and is raised in the Western culture if music perception differs for that child. Would they be hardwired to the types of modes and melodies of their biological parent’s culture or would their preference change in their new culture?

I would also be interested in learning more about the music-like games used to help treat dyslexic people. Reading and writing is essentially pattern recognition so it would make sense that music could be a tool to help a person with dyslexia. I wonder if these same music-like games could be used to help non-dyslexic struggling readers as well.
This article introduced many interesting aspects of music and the brain, however, failed to delve deeply into any of the topics outlined and I felt that it was a great introduction, but I really didn’t learn anything new and exciting.

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